Monday, September 12, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: A Million For Virtual Reality

Ed Jones took the Indy Lights championship after a late pass on his Carlin teammate Félix Serrallés. Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz won the Pro Mazda championship. Kalgoorlie, Australia's Anthony Martin won the U.S. F2000 title. The Chase field is set and Chris Buescher did make the Chase. Now we have to live through ten weeks of insufferable, cliché commercials about championships from NASCAR. Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart butted heads. Dani Pedrosa made MotoGP history. Italians booed Jorge Lorenzo. A Belgian won in Japan. A German won in Germany as did an Italian. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Million For Virtual Reality
If there is one series that has connected more with virtual racing it is Formula E. While there has been an era of NASCAR video games, multiple editions of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport and iRacing, no series has really gravitated to trying to draw gamers until Formula E came around. Nissan and Gran Turismo partnered for the GT Academy, which has turned Wolfgang Reip, Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordóñez into professional racers after they starting out in gaming but Formula E is putting out large purses without having a gamer ever get behind the wheel of a race car.

The Las Vegas eRace is scheduled for January 5-7th during the Consumer Electronics Show and has a $1 million purse that the 20 Formula E drivers and ten gamers will compete for. That is a purse larger than most IndyCar races. It is more than most sports car races. That is more than what the 24 Hours of Le Mans pays.

It is kind of jarring when you consider how much people could be paid to play a video game but in an ever-changing world, we need to consider why a racing video game could pay more than actually getting behind the wheel. Virtual racing is affordable. You pay for a game or a monthly subscription and then you might pay a couple thousand for a special wheel and seat as your controller and that is it. You don't have to spend to go testing and fly across the country or the Atlantic. You aren't worrying about getting in an accident and having to buy a new tub. You aren't crossing your fingers that a check clears and you are able to race the following week. It is pretty much a one-time cost and once you pay it, you are good to go and compete. It is what we wish motorsports, especially development series, could be but it is in the wrong dimension.

To many, it makes no sense why any one would be paid for competing in a video game and I can understand that but the celebrated skill sets are changing and it was only a matter of time. These aren't the days of Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and company where you could spend a couple hundred bucks and race a jalopy and slowly get noticed and move your way to a midget car or a sprint car. People aren't growing up with a local short track in town or the next town over that people flock to on Friday and Saturday night. People aren't watching a race and being inspired to give it a shot and either be scared and never do it again or find out it is something they are pretty good at and continue doing. Now you spend a couple hundred bucks on a video game console and you can race with a handful of friends and strangers with everyone in their own houses.

The interesting thing is the crossover of the skills. How will the drivers do in a simulation? Will it be a bloodbath with the gamers bringing up the rear? If a gamer beats one of the professional drivers in the Las Vegas eRace, it doesn't mean he or she can jump right in the car and be competing for victories in Formula E but is a day coming when that won't matter and the person who can be victorious in virtual reality will be more desired and appreciated than someone who can be victorious in Formula E or IndyCar or NASCAR or Formula One? While all can be done to make motorsports series cheaper, the days of it being affordable are just about over. We live in an era where if you want to make it in motorsports, you are going to need to come from a wealthy background. In virtual reality, you can become a star and come from a working-class background. You don't need rich parents to succeed and moving to the top level isn't dependent on raising a couple million dollars.

While some believe racers, whether it is IndyCar or sports cars or motorcycle racing, are paid a disappointing amount when you consider the risks that are being taken, pay isn't determined by how dangerous your job is. If that were the case, soldiers and firefighters would be richest people in the country. Everyone has a market value and you get paid accordingly. If racers want to be paid more for what they do they either need to increase their market value by drawing more viewers to the track and television screen or find someone willing to inflate their market value through a gargantuan title sponsorship or television contract. Some might not value the skills it takes to be a top eRacer but the market is saying it is worth having a $1 million purse to be split among the best.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Laguna Seca but did you know...

Dani Pedrosa won MotoGP's San Marino Grand Prix. He is the eighth different winner in eight MotoGP races, a series record. Lorenzo Baldassarri won in Moto2, his first career grand prix victory at his home track and Brad Binder won in Moto3, his second consecutive victory and fifth of the season.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series.

Marco Wittmann and Edoardo Mortara split the DTM doubleheader from the Nürburgring. Wittmann leads the championship by 33 points over Mortara with two rounds left in the championship.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Yuji Kunimoto split the Super Formula races from Okayama.

Coming Up This Weekend
The IndyCar season finale from Sonoma.
Pirelli World Challenge will also be in Sonoma.
Formula One will be in Singapore.
FIA WEC and IMSA partner for one final Lone Star Le Mans.
The Chase begins at Chicagoland.
Blancpain Endurance Series ends its season at Nürburgring.
Supercars run its first endurance race of the season, the Sandown 500.
World Superbikes returns after two months off at Lausitzring.